WESTERLY — Turned off by certain aspects of Westerly party politics, Andrew Gencarelli and James Silvestri are retaining their affiliation as Democrats but distancing themselves from some of their brethren.
Gencarelli, who is seeking re-election to serve a second term on the Town Council, turned down an endorsement from the Democratic Town Committee. Silvestri, who is seeking a return to the council after a self-imposed 10-year absence to focus on raising his two daughters, is also running without the endorsement of local Democrats, the same way he ran for the last two of the previous three terms he served from 1998-2004.
“They wanted to endorse me and have me be part of the slate but I decided I’d be better off on my own,” Gencarelli said.
The 29-year-old Gencarelli, the youngest member of the council by more than 10 years, pointed to controversy surrounding an ordinance that strictly limits the ability of street vendors to work in the town as one of the reasons he decided to put some distance between himself and other local Democrats.
Gencarelli and Republican Christopher Duhamel voted against the ordinance, which restricts many street vendors to special events and farmers markets. Gencarelli called for a compromise solution that would have met the public-safety concerns raised by Police Chief Edward St. Clair but also allowed longtime vendors such as George Manko’s Hawaiian Desserts at Misquamicut and Michael Granieri’s Del’s Lemonade truck in the parking lot of Benny’s on Post Road to continue doing business.
The other Democrats on the council, Jack Carson, Diana Serra and Kenneth Parrilla, who are also seeking re-election, joined with unaffiliated member Patricia Douglas to vote in favor of the ordinance.
“The rest of the Democrats voted the other way,” Gencarelli said.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. did not participate in the vote on the ordinance because he is executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association.
Silvestri said he registers as a Democrat because he supports the party’s overall philosophy, especially on a national level. But when it comes to local politics, Silvestri said perception can be a problem.
“It’s presumed that party favors are done for Republicans by Republican Town Committee members or by Democrats for members of their party. I can’t tell you if it’s actually done, but in the past if Republicans were in power they controlled the appointments, and the same for Democrats,” Silvestri said.
By running and hopefully serving separate from the endorsed slate, Silvestri said he can focus “on the good of the town and having the foresight with how the town should be run by my choice not the Democratic Town Committee or party push,” Silvestri said.
While his fellow Democrats on the council have never told him how to vote, Gencarelli said he prefers to present himself to voters as an independent thinker free from the influence of the town committee, whether the influence is real or perceived.
“My goal is to be a leader in the town. I think I’m better off on my own,” Gencarelli said.
A senior process-improvement engineer at Electric Boat, Gencarelli plans to campaign with Silvestri and Mario Celico, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate.
“We’re three independent thinkers getting together and campaigning together,” Gencarelli said.
Silvestri said running without the endorsement of the town committee was not difficult in the past.
“I think being from the town and being involved with a lot of things, people know me and what I stand for, they don’t think of me as being politically chosen,” Silvestri said.
The three will campaign and advertise together, Silvestri said, but also, at times, campaign on their own as individuals.
“I think the three of us are all kind of on the same page about where we want to go with certain developments in the town,” Silvestri said.
While he supports an ongoing effort to revise the Town Charter to remove the influence of politics from the process of appointing residents to serve on town boards and commissions, Silvestri said that effort was not his motivating factor for running without the town committee’s endorsement.
“I love public service and I love being the accessible guy. In my previous council terms I think people came to view me as someone they could talk with and they knew I would bring their words to the council level. I find great satisfaction in that,” Silvestri said.
There are 17,601 registered voters in the town. By party, the breakdown is as follows: 5,121 Democrats, 2,507 Republicans, 43 Moderates, and 9,930 unaffiliated voters.
Robert Ritacco, Democratic Town Committee chairman, could not be reached to comment for this article.